Sclerotinia blight is a fungal disease of alfalfa, beans, cabbage and other cole crops, kiwifruit, peanuts, soybeans, sunflowers, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.
The Sclerotinia sclerotiorum fungus is found in the soil and on infected seeds. It can cling to shoes, garden tools, and wheelbarrow wheels. And once it’s in your soil, you may never get rid of it.
This insidious pathogen infects your plants long before you see any symptoms. Recognizing it can help you treat this problem more efficiently.
Sclerotinia blight symptoms
Plant wilting and yellowing of side and main branches are the first signs of Sclerotinia blight, usually occurring mid to late-season. A closer inspection of the bottom of the plant will show white, fluffy mycelium on the stem and soil surrounding the plant. If you were to open up this blighted stem, you would see black bits, called sclerotia, that may be as large as mouse droppings. Those sclerotia are fungal intruders.
This fluff is easiest to see early in the morning when it is likely to be covered with dew. It may not be visible in the afternoon because the sun dries it out. If the mycelium is easy to see in the afternoon, it is probably southern blight.
Plants infected with Sclerotinia blight will develop sunken, light-colored, elongated lesions. If you roll an infected stem between your fingers, the tissue falls away in a behavior called shedding. This characteristic occurs because everything except the vascular tissue is rotting. Affected branches die and turn dark brown.
Like other blights, Sclerotinia blight is much easier to prevent than cure. Use these tips to avoid getting the disease in your garden in the first place:
Remove diseased plants immediately and throw them in the trash. Do not add sick plants to the compost pile. Fungicides rated for use against Sclerotinia blight can prevent this disease but won’t cure it once it takes hold. These fungi can remain viable in the soil for several years, so crop rotation is not helpful.
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